Fact Check: Falsehoods and Fumbles in Trump-Biden Debate

A look at how their statements from Nashville, Tennessee, stack up with the facts

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The facts took a hit right out of the gate Thursday night.

President Donald Trump’s first line of the night, about COVID-19 deaths, was false and set the tone as he and Democratic rival Joe Biden unleashed a torrent of claims in their last presidential debate.

Trump misrepresented the reality of the pandemic in myriad and familiar ways, insisting against obvious reality that the pandemic is drawing to a close. He also boasted about “clean” facilities at the border for migrant children, ignoring the filthy conditions under which they were held in 2018.

Biden, at times, was selective on the coronavirus and other matters, at one point stating that no one under Obamacare lost private health coverage. Millions did.

A look at how some of the statements on the stage in Nashville, Tennessee, compared with the facts:


TRUMP: “We’re rounding the turn. We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.”

THE FACTS: No, the coronavirus isn’t going away. It’s coming back. New cases are on the rise toward their summer peak. Deaths have also been increasing.

According to data through Oct. 21 from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks from over 42,300 on Oct. 7 to nearly 60,000 on Oct. 21.

In that time the seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. rose from 695 to 757.

On Thursday, the U.S. set a single-day record for new coronavirus cases with 77,640 reported infections nationwide, topping the previous record of 75,723 set on July 29, according to a an NBC News tally.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke about the coronavirus pandemic during Thursday’s presidential debate. Trump spoke about recovering from the virus and defended his handling of the pandemic. Biden spoke about how he would handle the crisis if elected in November.

TRUMP: “All he does is talk about shutdowns. But forget about him. His Democrat governors Cuomo in New York, you look at what’s going on in California, you look at Pennsylvania, North Carolina. Democrats — Democrats all. They’re shut down so tight, and they’re dying.”

BIDEN: “Look at the states that are having such a spike in the coronavirus. They’re the red states. They’re the states in the Midwest or the states in the Upper Midwest. That’s where the spike is occurring significantly.”

THE FACTS: Neither of them is right. Coronavirus isn’t a red-state problem or a blue-state problem. It’s a public health problem that affects people no matter where they live or what their politics are.

Some Republican-led states that were quick to reopen saw a surge of virus cases in the summer and are still struggling to get their transmission rates down. Florida’s test positivity rate is about 12% currently, a level indicating widespread transmission. South Dakota is approaching 35%.

Democratic-led states like New York that were hit hard in the initial wave closed down and got their virus transmission rates down to very low levels. But they’re now seeing rebounds in certain local communities, prompting them to target renewed restrictions.

Nevada and Pennsylvania are two states with Democratic governors and high transmission rates at currently 20% and 10% respectively, based on a 14-day trend.

A new model from the University of Washington shows that half a million Americans could die of the coronavirus by February 2021. But researchers say that if Americans universally wore masks, nearly 130,000 of these lives could be saved.

TRUMP on the toll of COVID-19 in the U.S.: “So as you know 2.2 million people, modeled out, were expected to die.”

THE FACTS: This was his first line in the debate, and it is false. The U.S. death toll from the pandemic was not expected to be that high.

Such an extreme projection was merely a baseline if nothing at all were done to fight the pandemic. Doing nothing was never an option and public-health authorities did not expect over 2 million deaths.

Trump often cites the number to put the reality of more than 220,000 deaths in a better light and to attempt to take credit for reducing projected mortality.

At an April 1 briefing, when Trump and his officials discussed an actual projection of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths, the president held out hope of keeping deaths under 100,000. “I think we’re doing better than that.” He has repeatedly moved the goal posts to make the massive mortality and infection numbers look better.



TRUMP, speaking about children who were separated from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border: “They are so well taken care of; they’re in facilities that are so clean.”

THE FACTS: Not so.

At the height of the family separations in 2018, Border Patrol facilities were cramped well beyond capacity with migrants who were kept in squalid conditions, according to watchdog reports and the lawyers responsible for a federal settlement that governs how children are cared for in immigration custody. Long-term facilities for adults and children were at capacity, meaning the administration held people in the small border stations for much longer than the 72 hours normally allowed by law.

The stations are hardly meant for long-term care. Children were not provided hot meals and families slept on the floor on top of Mylar blankets. Flu and sickness ran rampant, and hundreds of small children were kept together without adequate care.

TRUMP, on immigrants who are released from custody in the U.S. to wait out their cases being allowed to stay: “They say they come back, less than 1% of the people come back. We have to send ... Border Patrol out to find them.”

THE FACTS: That’s false. There are far fewer no-shows for immigration hearings among those who are released pending their cases. According to Justice Department Statistics, a majority come back for their hearings.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden discussed health care policy, coronavirus relief and immigration policy during Thursday’s debate.


BIDEN: “Not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan, nor did they under Obamacare, they did not lose their insurance, unless they chose they wanted to go to something else.”

THE FACTS: He’s wrong about Obamacare.

Then-President Barack Obama promised if you liked your health insurance, you could keep it under his Affordable Care Act, but that’s not what happened for some.

When Obamacare took effect in 2014, several million people lost individual health insurance plans that no longer met minimum standards established by the law. A backlash forced the White House to offer a work-around, but the political damage was done.

Health insurance is such a complicated area that almost any action has the potential for unintended consequences.


TRUMP: The Paris accord meant “we were going to have to spend trillions of dollars.... They did a great disservice. They were going to take away our business.”

THE FACTS: The Paris accord, an international agreement that aims to halt the rise in global temperatures, is based on voluntary emission reductions. No nation was forced to do anything.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden both offered different visions on the best way to approach climate policy during Thursday’s debate.


BIDEN: “He says about the Poor Boys, last time we were on a stage here, said -- I told them to stand down and stand ready. Come on. This guy has a dog whistle as big as a fog horn.”

THE FACTS: That is not exactly what Trump said and that is not the name of the neo-fascist group.

During the last debate, Trump was asked if he would condemn white supremacist and militia groups that have shown up at some protests in the U.S. He said, “Give me a name” and Biden chimed in by saying, “Proud Boys,” a reference to the far-right extremist group that has shown up at protests in the Pacific Northwest.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said. He did not tell them to “stand ready,” though it’s debatable whether there is a material difference.


TRUMP on his taxes: “They keep talking about $750, which I think is a filing fee. ... Tens of millions of dollars (in income taxes) I prepaid.” On his China bank account: “I was a businessman in 2013 and I closed the account in 2015.”

THE FACTS: Trump is not being honest about his taxes.

Reporting by The New York Times, which obtained his tax records, contradicts his claims.

The IRS does not charge taxpayers a filing fee, though tax preparation services do. The $750 that Trump paid in 2016 and 2017 in the income taxes was to the federal government, not a tax preparation service.

It’s not clear what Trump is talking about with regard to prepaying his taxes, but what matters is what he ultimately owed the government. Americans often have their income tax payments deducted from their paychecks. The Times reported that Trump, starting in 2010, claimed and received an income tax refund that totaled $72.9 million, which was at the core of an ongoing audit by the IRS. The Times said a ruling against Trump could cost him $100 million or more.

Nor did Trump close his Chinese bank account, according to Alan Garten, a lawyer for Trump’s company. He told the Times that the account remains open, though the company’s office in China has been inactive since 2015.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden discussed national security and protecting election integrity during Thursday’s debate. In addition to national security discussions, Trump defended not releasing his tax returns, while Biden told the audience he has released 22 years of returns.


TRUMP: “Joe got $3.5 (million) from Russia. And it came through Putin because he was very friendly with the former mayor of Moscow, and it was the the mayor of Moscow’s wife. ... Your family got $3.5 million. Someday you’re going to have to explain why.”

THE FACTS: There is no evidence of this. Trump is falsely characterizing a recent report by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who investigated Biden’s son, Hunter, and his business dealings in Ukraine.

The report did not allege that Joe Biden himself got $3.5 million or that Russia President Vladimir Putin had anything to do with such a payment. Nor does the report allege that Hunter Biden pocketed the money himself. The report said the sum went instead to an investment firm he co-founded. Hunter Biden’s lawyer has said in a statement to reporters that his client had no interest in and was not a founder of the firm.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden ended Thursday’s debate with a statement to the American people about what they would say in their inaugural address if elected president.


Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Eric Tucker, Josh Boak, Stephen Braun, Michael Balsamo, Amanda Seitz and David Klepper contributed to this report.

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